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Planning, procurement and judicial review legislation to the fore in Queen's Speech

Bills covering planning, procurement, subsidy control, judicial review and electoral integrity are among the key pieces of legislation outlined in today’s Queen’s Speech.

The programme includesthe following:

Planning Bill

Its purpose includes plans to create a “simpler, faster and more modern planning system to replace the current one that dates back to 1947, and ensuring we no longer remain tied to procedures designed for the last century”

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Its main elements are:

  • Changing local plans so that they provide more certainty over the type, scale and design of development permitted on different categories of land.
  • Significantly decreasing the time it takes for developments to go through the planning system.
  • Replacing the existing systems for funding affordable housing and infrastructure from development with a new more predictable and more transparent levy.
  • Using post-Brexit freedoms to simplify and enhance the framework for environmental assessments for developments.
  • Reforming the framework for locally led development corporations to ensure local areas have access to appropriate delivery vehicles to support growth and regeneration.

Procurement Bill

Its purpose is to “reform the UK’s public procurement regime, making it quicker, simpler and better able to meet the country’s needs while remaining compliant with our international obligations”. This will replace the current regime which was largely transposed from EU procurement directives. It will also make public procurement “more accessible for new entrants such as small businesses and voluntary, charitable and social enterprises to compete for and win public contracts”.

Its main elements are:

  • Enshrining in law the principles of public procurement such as: value for money, public benefit, transparency, integrity, fair treatment of suppliers and nondiscrimination.
  • Overhauling the complex and inflexible procurement procedures and replacing them with three simple, modern procedures. This will allow the public sector more scope to negotiate with potential suppliers to deliver innovative new solutions.
  • Requiring buyers to have regard to the Government’s strategic priorities for public procurement as set out in a new National Procurement Policy Statement.
  • Introducing procurement processes that allow contracting authorities to buy at pace, for serious situations that are declared a crisis, with strengthened safeguards for transparency.
  • Establishing a single data platform for supplier registration that ensures suppliers only have to submit their data once to qualify for any public sector procurement.
  • Tackling unacceptable behaviour such as supplier fraud through new exclusion rules and giving buyers the tools to properly take account of a bidder’s past performance.
  • Reforming the process for challenging procurement decisions to speed up the review system and make it more accessible and capping the level of damages available to bidders in order to reduce the attractiveness of speculative claims.

Subsidy Control Bill

Its purpose is to “implement a domestic UK subsidy control regime that reflects our strategic interests and particular national circumstances, providing a legal framework within which public authorities make subsidy decisions”.

Its main elements are:

  • Creating a consistent set of UK-wide principles that public authorities must follow when granting subsidies.
  • Exempting categories of subsidies from certain obligations of the regime or leaving out of scope entirely.
  • Prohibiting and placing conditions on certain types of subsidies which are at a particularly high risk of distorting markets.
  • Obligating public authorities to upload information on subsidies to a new UK-wide, publicly accessible transparency database.
  • Establishing an independent subsidy control body to oversee the UK’s bespoke, modern subsidy control system.
  • Providing for judicial oversight and enforcement of the granting of subsidies.

Judicial Review Bill

Its purpose is to “introduce reforms to Judicial Review to protect the judiciary from being drawn into political questions and preserve the integrity of Judicial Review for its intended purpose – which is to hold the Government and public authorities to account, apply the intent of Parliament, and protect individuals’ rights”.

Its main elements are:

  • Allowing for the court’s use of Suspended Quashing Orders in Judicial Review cases. The court would be able to suspend, for a specified time, the effect of an order quashing (thus rendering no legal effect) a decision or action. This gives the public authority time to rectify the identified errors. If the errors are not rectified within the specified timeframe, the quashing order would become effective.
  • Reversing Cart. The Cart judgment made certain decisions of the Upper Tribunal reviewable by the High Court. “This has given rise to numerous spurious cases challenging Upper Tribunal decisions. We are considering this proposal in light of ongoing evidence analysis.”

The Electoral Integrity Bill

The main purpose is to “deliver manifesto pledges to tackle electoral fraud, prevent foreign interference and to make it easier for British expats to participate in elections”.

Its main elements are:

  • Improving the absent ballot process by increasing protection on postal and proxy voting, including banning postal vote ‘harvesting’.
  • Strengthening the laws on intimidation and undue influence.
  • Requiring identification to vote in a polling station, as already required in Northern Ireland.
  • Extending the ‘imprint’ requirement to digital political campaigning, and introducing measures to prevent foreign interference in elections.
  • Improving access to voting for electors with disabilities.
  • Removing the 15 year limit on the voting rights of British expats and making it easier to cast their vote.

Other significant Bills contained in the Queen's Speech include; a Building Safety Bill; a Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill; a Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill; a Skills and Post-16 Education Bill: a Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill; a Environment Bill; a Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill; and a Health and Care Bill.

The Queen’s Speech meanwhile said the Government was committed to bringing forward proposals in 2021 on social care reform but did not mention a specific Bill.

"My Government’s priority is to deliver a national recovery from the pandemic that makes the United Kingdom stronger, healthier and more prosperous than before," the Queen said.

"To achieve this, my Government will level up opportunities across all parts of the United Kingdom, supporting jobs, businesses and economic growth and addressing the impact of the pandemic on public services."

The background briefing notes for the Queen's Speech can be viewed here.

Cllr James Jamieson, Chairman of the Local Government Association, said: “Councils know their local areas best and stand ready to help lead efforts to ensure the new legislative agenda set out in today’s Queen’s Speech – including around planning, jobs, health and care reform, environment, climate change and building safety - is transformational and delivers meaningful, positive change for people and communities.

“We are pleased that proposals on social care reform will be brought forward but we urgently need a clear timeline. It is vital that this is also urgently converted into concrete funding proposals to provide sustainable support to people of all ages across the country who draw on social care to live the life they want to lead. We are keen to work with Government and other stakeholders on a cross party basis to achieve this. We cannot keep kicking this can down the road.”

Cllr Jamieson added: “The LGA and councils look forward to working closely with the Government to help deliver on its commitment to level up powers and invest in local areas across all parts of the country. With the right funding and freedoms, councils will play a leading role in the country’s recovery from the pandemic, driving improvements in public health, boosting local economic growth, reviving town and city centres, building more homes, improving our roads and equipping people with the skills they need to succeed so no one is left behind.”

Jonathan Carr-West, Chief Executive of the LGIU thinktank,meanwhile said this would "not be a particularly encouraging Queen’s Speech for local government".

"Everyone agrees that we need to build many, many more houses in this country. It’s less clear that planning is what is preventing us from doing so. These proposals leave local government with the political liability on planning whilst depriving them, and by extension the communities they represent, of the powers to manage it effectively. Are major planning changes on permitted development totally compatible with rejuvenating town centres?" he asked.

"And, if we truly want places to be levelled up and to stay levelled up, we need to empower them through genuine devolution not through sporadic government patronage. Governments outside of Westminster have to deliver every day. Westminster politicians love to talk about how they will get on and deliver, but it is councils and mayors that actually do that.The shift of power away from Westminster is already happening, our politics has to catch up somehow."

Carr-West also said the "glaring hole in the middle of this Queen’s Speech" was a plan for social care reform. "Every year that this is kicked into the distance, the care sector moves closer to complete collapse. No-one pretends there’s an easy solution here but it will never get any easier and there will never be a better time. The Government must act now."

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